Review: COCAINE BEAR, This Gleefully Gory Gutbuster Doesn't Blow
Loosely based on the true story of a drug drop gone horribly wrong, Elizabeth Banks's animal attack extravaganza, Cocaine Bear is a gory gutbuster that more than earns a place in the pantheon of deliriously fun horror comedies.
In 1985 a former fed turned smuggler making a run dropped millions of dollars worth of cocaine in Georgia's Chattahoochee Forest with the intent of delivering them to a buyer who knew to look in the area. However, through a series of unlikely events, the drug runner wound up dead in a Knoxville neighborhood when he hit the ground after his parachute didn't open, and something found the drugs before the dealers who were supposed to pick them up. That something was a black bear, a bear who ingested over thirty pounds of cocaine and was later found dead.
It's a fun story, but relatively uneventful on the bear's side. Writer Jimmy Warden imagines, what if the coked up bear went on a crazy drug fueled bender, gleefully shredding everything and everyone in its path? This is Cocaine Bear, a wonderfully vicious revisionist history of the violent escapades of a bear who quickly develops a taste for booger sugar and blood that can't be sated.
Banks and Warden have the great advantage of a wildly diverse and very game cast who occupy the various corners of this insane world and chew the scenery with as much panache as the bear chews on those bricks of cocaine. Devoted character actors like Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (The Wire), the incredible Margo Martindale (Justified), and the late, great Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) give us their all, showing a kind of gusto that really speaks to Banks' direction and understanding of the gonzo tone that a film like this requires.
De facto leads Keri Russell (Felicity), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ingrid Goes West) form a through line in a film that is less interested in plot than set pieces. They provide a kind of emotional gravitas that begins as charming, but does wear thin by the end as the film loses a bit of steam in the third act. Not their fault, but there's a significant shift in tone in the climax that pushes the title character to the background for large chunks of screen time, and it's really the only time the film falters.
Where Cocaine Bear really shines is in delivering a briskly paced animal attack slasher with creative kills, laugh out loud gore gags, and providing a slightly skewed version of reality that's just a little bit kookier than the one we actually inhabit. Banks and Warden aren't afraid to sic the bear on characters we care about, and once the first of our main cast bites the dust it's clear that no one is safe and that makes every moment we get to spend with these colorful characters so much more precious.
With the help of kinetic camerawork from John Guleserian (Candyman '21), a period appropriate score from one of the architects of synth pop, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, and whip smart editing from Joel Negron (21 Jump Street), Cocaine Bear is infused with the energy of producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's best work. Though it's definitely Banks behind the camera, you can definitely feel their influence, and that's not a bad thing. I don't think I've laughed in this much in a horror comedy since Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, and that's a really high bar.
Despite the dragging in the final act when the film decides to get serious about its familial themes, Cocaine Bear is still a straight up blast. It's already in the running for my year end lists, and I expect that once it's unleashed on the world, it'll have a lot of fans clamoring for more. Meth Moose, anyone?
- Elizabeth Banks
- Jimmy Warden
- Ray Liotta
- Margo Martindale
- Keri Russell